Health experts have long advocated the benefits of sleep. Sleep helps a body recuperate from stress, fight off disease, and repair damaged muscles. Recent studies detailed by Reuters show that sleep deprivation is directly linked to weight gain. On average, subjects who didn’t receive a full night’s sleep ate 300 more calories than those who were well rested. Why does sleep play a role in weight gain, and what does that mean for dieters?
Researchers at the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital gathered subjects of both genders in their 30s and 40s. During the study, the subjects lived and slept at the research center for two five-day periods. During the first period, subjects had nine hours of sleep. During the second period, however, they had only four hours of sleep. During each period, the subjects ate a controlled diet four days out of five and ate freely on the fifth day. Consistently, the sleep-deprived participants ate more than they had when they were fully rested.
The findings of the study agree with results from other research worldwide that suggests the direct correlation between sleep and hunger. While people who sleep less eat more, they burn the same number of calories (or fewer since sleeping burns calories) as their snoozing counterparts. Considering that few Americans get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night, sleep deprivation may well be a factor in the U.S. obesity problem.
Why Sleep Influences Hunger
There are several reasons why sleep-deprived people may be tempted to eat more:
· Tired people may not have the energy or willpower to make smart food choices.
· Insomniacs may eat out of boredom or habit.
· Wakefulness creates more opportunity to feel hungry.
· Food can provide a temporary energy boost to sluggish, sleep-deprived people.
· People who chronically lack sleep may also not have time to prepare home-cooked meals.
Perhaps the most interesting cause of the sleep- hunger correlation is hormones. USA Today reported a few years ago about another study that supports the findings of this recent one. Researchers at the Research Laboratory on Sleep, Chronobiology and Neuroendocrinology at the University of Chicago School of Medicine have discovered a link between sleep-deprivation and hunger hormones.
Two hormones control hunger: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin makes people feel hungry; leptin makes people feel full, and thus, stop eating. If either hormone is out of balance, overeating can occur.
The sleep researchers studied a group of 12 men who slept four hours and 10 hours on separate nights. Their blood was drawn regularly, and they were asked questions about their hunger. The men who slept fewer hours had elevated ghrelin levels and lower leptin levels; in other words, the hormone making them feel hungry rose, while the hormone controlling fullness fell. Subjects with the most dramatic ghrelin elevations and leptin plummets also reported the strongest hunger cravings.
This hormonal link makes sense of why students, first-time parents, shift workers, and other chronically sleep-deprived demographics are so often at risk of weight gain.
Sleep Does a Body Good
Humans are unique among animals in that we routinely get too little sleep. Other creatures sleep when they’re tired and eat when they’re hungry; they also expend a tremendous amount of energy obtaining food. Technology has enabled humans to expend less energy obtaining food, but our advanced society comes at a high cost. We must work constantly to earn the money to afford the technology that makes our lives easier. However, does such constant work really make our lives easier in the long run?
For people trying to lose weight, getting enough sleep is crucial to their success. Sleep is a valuable commodity. People who routinely get enough sleep have higher energy levels and are therefore more motivated to exercise. Sleep also fights pain and fatigue from sore muscles.
Sleep is only one part of a healthy lifestyle, but it’s an easy first step. By getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and controlling calorie intake, people can lose excess weight and live healthier, longer lives.